Cablegate: Ofda Rep Visit to Southern Equateur

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958; NA


1. (U) From June 29 to July 3, OFDA Rep Victor
Bushamuka traveled in southern Equateur Province to
evaluate the humanitarian situation and monitor
progress in the USAID/OFDA-funded food security project
implemented by Action Against Hunger (AAH-USA). Though
fighting in the area ended over two years ago, only an
estimated 60 percent of the pre-war area's population
have returned to their villages, due to military
harassment and a lack of humanitarian assistance. Most
IDPs returning in Bolomba in July were barely clothed
and in poor health, but only a few were manifestly
malnourished. In its food security project, AAH-USA
distributed seeds, agricultural tools, and fishing
equipment to an estimated 45,000 IDPs and returnees.
Food security programs, health assistance, and non-food
items will continue to be needed at least for another
year, given the slow return rate. The priority target
area should be the newly accessible villages in the ex-
MLC-controlled territories. END SUMMARY.

2. (U) OFDA Rep Victor Bushamuka visited Equateur
Province from June 29 to July 03, 2004. The objective
of the visit was to assess the prevailing humanitarian
situation in southern Equateur and the success of the
USAID/OFDA-funded food security program implemented by
AAH-USA. During the visit, OFDA Rep met with groups of
beneficiaries, new returnees, civil and military
authorities, and staff of INGOs AAH-USA and Medecins
Sans Frontieres / Belgium (MSF-B).

3. (U) Equateur is one of the poorest provinces of DRC.
The southern territories of Equateur sustained heavy
fighting between armed forces of the ex-government
(FAC) and ex-rebel forces of MLC from 1998 to 2001.
During the war, the territories of Bolomba, Befale,
Boende, Basankusu, Bokungu, and Ikela were all divided
in half by the front line with MLC forces controlling
the northern parts and the FAC ruling the southern
areas. Military confrontations in these territories led
to massive displacements estimated between 110,000 to
170,000 people by UN-OCHA. Most IDPs took refuge in the
forest and it is believed that a large number still
remain there.

Non-return of many forest IDPs
4. (U) The Administrator and the INGO staff in Bolomba
estimated the current population to be about 60 percent
of the pre-war population. In Bolomba, the OFDA Rep
visited both the ex-MLC and ex-FAC controlled villages
and found that more people have returned in the ex-FAC
areas than in the ex-MLC territories. As of June, the
population of the ex-MLC controlled villages including
Bosanjoa, Bosolikubu, Boko, and Bosekombo was estimated
by local residents at still less than 20 percent of pre-
war figures.

5. (U) The non-return of so many IDPs who fled to the
forest in Equateur is surprising considering that there
has been no significant fighting in these areas for
more than 2 years and considering that they are in
relatively poor health with high prevalences of
malnutrition and of skin infections. It has been
common belief among many in the humanitarian community
that shame at having little clothing has been the main
reason for these people's reluctance to return to their

6. (U) OFDA Rep's own discussions with various groups
of IDPs suggest that many who fled to the forest remain
there for reasons other than lack of clothes. For one
thing, it is not clear that those who have returned are
any better off than those who remain in the forest. It
was noted that military forces, particularly in the
former MLC areas, still occupy villages and harass the
populations who return. Some of these soldiers are
indeed the same that committed numerous atrocities
during the war. Furthermore, there is as yet little
humanitarian assistance provided in the villages and
many IDPs have now planted crops in their refuge areas.
There is, thus, at present little incentive to return.
Although the problems of a lack of clothes and of poor
physical appearance were also cited by IDPs, these did
not appear to be critical with regard to the question
of whether or not to leave the forest and return to
former villages.

7. (U) For IDPs who had returned, the opportunity to
benefit from AAH's OFDA-funded food security assistance
program was cited as a key incentive. Other reasons
given were accessibility to health care and education.

Conditions of New Returnees
8. (U) Although INGOs and others are reporting high
rates of malnutrition throughout southern Equateur,
OFDA Rep observed few obvious cases during his visit.
The physical appearance of returnees did, however,
suggest precarious health conditions, with many
children seeming to be in need of medical attention. As
has been reported, most of the new returnees were
barely clothed with some adults wearing only rags.

Humanitarian Assistance
9. (U) Only two international humanitarian institutions
-- AAH-USA and MSF-B -- are currently active in
southern Equateur. AAH-USA assists returnees through
the OFDA food security project. MSF-B provides basic
health care services, and measles vaccinations, as well
as sleeping sickness screening and treatment. For
security reasons, both AAH-USA and MSF-B activities in
southern Equateur have been largely concentrated in the
ex-government controlled areas, including Bolomba,
Lolanga-Mampoko, Boende, Befale and Mondombe. The ex-
MLC could not trust AAH-USA and MSF-B because they had
their main offices in Mbandaka, which was at the time
an enemy territory. As a result, AAH-USA and MSF-B
could not be granted permission by ex-MLC to operate in
its territories. In addition, AAH-USA and MSF-B staff
had been physically threatened each time they tried to
visit ex-MLC territories.

OFDA Food Security Activities
10. (U) A one-year grant was awarded by USAID/OFDA to
AAH to improve food security for IDPs, returnees and
vulnerable populations and to promote the re-
establishment of pre-war level of livelihood activities
in southern Equateur. This project covers a strip of
territories extending eastward from Bolomba, Lolanga-
Mampoko, Boende, and Mondombe. Project activities have
included the distribution of maize seeds, cassava
cuttings, hoes, machetes, and axes to 3,000
agricultural families in Boende and Mondombe, as well
as the provision of fishing equipment, including 125
canoes, 4,544 fishing nets, 68,838 hooks, 350 nylon
threads, and 250 machetes, to 5,000 beneficiary
households. According to AAH-USA, the fishing capacity
of the beneficiaries of the OFDA food security project
increased from 15kg per week prior to the project to an
average of about 71 kg per week. In 2003, AAH-USA
reached a total of 9,000 households, which can be
estimated at 45,000 people.

11. (U) AAH-USA has been charging a small fee to the
beneficiaries of seeds, tools and fishing equipment to
fund the activities of selected community based
humanitarian and development organizations (CBO). CBO
activities that were funded by AAH-USA in 2003 include
schools and roads rehabilitation, transportation of
sick community members to hospitals, and community seed

Implementation Challenges
12. (U) The project territories, especially Boende and
Mondombe experienced a major drought at the beginning
of the 2003 agricultural season, shortly after the
distribution of seeds and tools to the beneficiaries.
As a result, most farmers delayed their planting, which
resulted in poor harvest or complete crop failure in

13. (U) Frequent harassment of the population by the
military also greatly affected the activities of AAH-
USA in Equateur. In 2003, convinced that production
must have increased as a result of AAH's activities,
soldiers made increased demands on populations in all
of the AAH-USA implementing areas, especially in
Boende, Mondombe and Lolanga.

Observations and Recommendations
14. (U) Equateur is one of the poorest provinces of the
DRC. The capacity of most IDPs to re-establish
livelihood activities, and of residents to assist
returning IDPs, is limited, making it likely that the
majority of IDPs still in the forest will require
assistance upon their return. Food security and health
care programs will thus still be needed in southern
Equateur for at least another year. To reduce the
strain caused by new returnees on the limited resources
of local population, a distribution of non-food items
to new returnees appears essential.

15. (U) New assistance efforts should be focused mainly
in areas that have not yet been assisted, which are
largely those in the former MLC territory. In ex-
government areas, most of which have already
experienced some assistance, only new returnees should
be targeted. MEECE.

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